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Star Trek Renegade II - Through the Looking Glass - Part 1 by J. Grey, copyright held by A.P. Atkinson

A team in the past blaze a trail into uncharted territory in a struggle to protect the galaxy's future from itself.

Part 1 of 3

The year was 2273 and for Captain Jonathon Franks it had not been a particularly good one. Earth and the rest of the Federation was in the process of toughening their borders after the historic contact with V'ger had shown how woefully unprepared they could truly be in the face of a potentially malevolent force. The Constitution refit program had shown the way forward, bristling with new technology and ideas she had helped to usher in a whole new era of Starship design. Her proven frame allowing such innovation to slip past the more reserved officials in the upper echelons of Starfleet, if not unseen then at least not drawing sufficient protest to slow the inexorable march of progress.

He glowered with his usual stoic resolve at the viewer as the stars tumbled listlessly past his ship as it travelled at a leisurely factor of Warp along the border of Federation space.

"Not much to report." The Commander sighed wearily. Her frequent reports of the mission status were growing tiresome and she was beginning to grate the nerves of the crew, not least the Captain who had little tolerance for her in any case.

"We know there's not much to report." He cast his glare sideways to the edge of the diminutive bridge where she sat at her control station. "This is a routine patrol of the neutral zone perimeter, we're only in trouble if there is anything to report. We have discussed this before!"

"Yes Sir." Commander Elisabeth Crowley agreed succinctly before returning her attention to her duty.

"She's just doing her job." The ship's science officer added with a note that carried a hint of sarcasm aimed squarely at the latest addition to the crew.

"And doing it efficiently." The Commander glowered at the Vulcan science officer coldly. She had not served with the vessel long and had made little effort to fit into the close-knit team during the time that she had.

"We'd all prefer if you could do it quietly." Captain Franks told her sternly, his tone leaving little doubt as to his sincerity. "No more reports. I don't need you to tell me nothing every ten minutes. You may consider than order."

"Sir." She protested, turning her chair to face him. "Protocol requires that I bring you up to date on both the mission, ship and crew situation at set intervals. I'm merely following standard procedural guidelines as set out by the requirements of Starfleet."

"Humans!" Science officer Tarvor shook his head mockingly with a raised eyebrow. "So very logical."

The Commander cast him the kind of glower that would frighten large animals and small children but he seemed hardly to notice.

"In my ready room." Captain Franks told her as he hoisted his large body from the centre chair.

"Sir?" She turned to him with some alarm visible through her expression as she realised that another embarrassing round of subtle insinuations and much less subtle rebukes were likely to ensue in the immediate future.

"Now!" He growled loudly sending the bridge into nervous silence as if it seemed even the instruments knew when to stay out of the Captains way.

"Of course." She stammered.

The cold emptiness of space stuttered to itself. The light from the countless stars seemed to flutter for an instant, hazy at the edges as if the light were distorted through a clouded lens as something passed behind the fabric of the universe like a predator stalking through the undergrowth. A shimmer passed over the darkness and the stars began to melt away as faint tendrils of energy began to snake away from the centre, tentatively feeling their way into the normal realm. Suddenly the sphere erupted through space, an opening from the centre of existence tore open reality for an instant spewing out brilliant white light and flickering arcs of lightning which broiled away angrily at the mouth of the event. The potent coiling power spun from the throbbing heart, twisting out into space with flaming fingers of pure energy. The light seemed to grow in brilliance as if the heart of a star was being forced through and suddenly a dark shape emerged from the centre. The arrow exploded out from the gigantic opening and ran smouldering from the broiling maelstrom at the eye, the light danced over the metallic silhouette as the tiny vessel made her escape. As the dart shaped object tumbled back into normal space the opening vanished instantly, closing as if never there. The alien ship recovered herself and with flashes from her damaged systems it began to drift along with its engines glowing dully along her silver hull.

"Sit down." Captain Franks told her, gesturing to a chair opposite the desk in the tiny ready-room that was wrapped uneasily around the circular bridge making it seem as if space was at a premium on the small patrol ship, for indeed it was.

She remained silent as she took the seat while awaiting yet another angry rebuke from her new commanding officer.

"This is a Starfleet ship." He began thoughtfully as his fingers knotted together behind his back. His chest was pounding furiously as he glowered at the wall, his anger broiling away inside him.

"Of course." She agreed softly, hoping to provoke him the very least amount possible.

"This is, however, clearly not the kind of ship that you're more used to serving on." He told her, turning towards his officer accusingly.

"I am attempting to adjust." She told him, hanging her head like a scolded child.

"We don't always follow regulations here." He said with a heavy sigh as a grin fluttered over his lips as he appreciated the irony of his own understatement. "I have crossed into the neutral zone three times in the last four years. Twice I've had no choice but to order the destruction of an alien vessel."

"I don't understand?" She frowned at his words. "You've crossed into the neutral zone? How is that legal?"

"The Romulans don't much care." He told her with a deep breath. "They cross into our space under cloak so when I chase them out we're in stalemate. They can't complain at the destruction of their ship because they were in violation of treaty and we don't tend to make a fuss either. It's more beneficial for both sides if we don't make a big political issue out of it, which could all too easily escalate into a war. I'm under orders to take any actions I see fit in the event of a border incursion."

"I'm not quite following." She admitted. "Starfleet have ordered you to execute Romulans if they cross into our space?"

"You're right." He nodded sadly. "You're not quite following." He swallowed and marshalled his thoughts for a moment before continuing. "The Romulans are defeated. Their last full-scale incursion was defeated both publicly and violently by Captain Kirk and they learnt their lesson from it. Nobody wants a war but that is what might happen if a Romulan vessel managed to get deep enough into Federation space. It would be virtually unavoidable."

"So every time they test our resolve you give them a bloody nose?" She sighed. "No matter who gets hurt?"

"You're one of three crewmen who replaced the last members of my team that did get hurt." He slammed down his palms on his desk and leant threateningly towards her.

"So you're saying that following procedure is irrelevant here?" She slunk backwards into her chair reflexively.

"No." He said simply.

"Then what?" She flicked her eyes dubiously upwards to meet his.

"I'm saying that we can't always live the life that we're here to protect." He told her sternly. "This ship has a crew of only 21 people and each one owes their lives to one another. If they don't then they will by then end of the next crew rotation."

"So I'm a member of the crew but not a member of the team?" She crossed her arms over her chest in meek disapproval. "Is that what you're telling me?"

"You will have to be both." He told her. "This is a close team. We know each other and we work well because we know what we're all capable of."

"You've seen my record." She looked away as his ceaseless stare became more than a little uncomfortable.

"I have." He agreed. "But now you have to prove you can be one of us."

"I don't know about that, Sir." She grumbled weakly.

"Starfleet thinks you're one of us." He leant away with a wide grin. "That means they don't want you anywhere else. It seems you have a lot to prove to a lot of other people too. Nobody gets posted here for the good of their career."

The USS Ronin was still docked at her construction facility. Webbed by an intricate lacework of pylons and offices as the Starfleet crew ran the usual battery of tests designed to prove what they already knew.

Captain Singh read through the latest batch of reviews that told him everything his team of engineers had told him three months earlier.

"The ship is completely ready for deep space assignments." Chief Engineer Williams said with a note of frustration. "The Miranda platform is perfectly safe, the brass are just dragging their heels because the leap is too much for them to take in. They don't trust her because they're old, not because there's anything wrong with the design."

"It was the same story when the introduced the good old Constitution." The Captain added wistfully with a sympathetic smile at the engineer's understandable frustration. "The Miranda will work out. Who knows, one day it may be as common as sight as that grand old Federation Starship?"

"More so!" Williams said enthusiastically. "She's got some radical new engineering in her. She's built for the future and she's ready to face it head on."

"Well this ship is ready to prove it." The Captain laid the file pad on his desk and smiled.

"She's even better than a standard Miranda!" The engineer grinned with self-satisfaction. "The brass might not believe in the platform but that just means we have to show them what we're offering them."

"Upgraded Phaser cannons and launchers, high speed targeting computers and advanced sensor grid." The Captain nodded in agreement. "This ship is built to take on a fleet of Klingons!"

"Well I don't know if we could handle a fleet but we're in good shape if we had to face a D7 or two." The engineer grinned. The Captain smirked knowingly at his staff member's unbridled enthusiasm and belief in the ship.

"Well it doesn't look like we're going to have to." The Captain winced slightly with an objectionable glower at the thought.

"We finally have our orders?" The engineer's eyes lit up excitedly. "We're going out?"

"We're going out." The Captain nodded in agreement. "No more safety net."

"We don't need one." Williams said proudly. "With the exception of the new Enterprise we're just about the most powerful ship out here and I'll help you prove it."

"She took the hint?" Tarvor asked with a raised eyebrow as the Captain entered the bridge.

"I doubt it." He admitted wearily. "If this doesn't work I may have to have her reassigned. I've never met an officer like her out here in the patrol lanes."

"An officer dedicated to duty and the chain of command?" The science officer asked sarcastically. "Perhaps that's why you've ended up assigned to this floating junk heap on the worst assignment in the fleet?"

"I volunteered." Franks reminded him coldly, rocking back on the balls of his feet as he glowered at the officer. "This is where I've chosen to be."

"Quite so." Tarvor agreed with a sigh. "That in itself should make both myself and Starfleet very suspicious of you."

"And for the record, if I hear you refer to my ship as a floating junk heap again I shall assume you no longer wish to be aboard and have you ejected into deep space."

"With breathing apparatus, I presume?" The science officer raised an eyebrow.

"I may allow you a snorkel if you're very nice to me in the interim period." The Captain acceded with a grin as his harshness vanished.

"Actually I have been running a metallurgical scan on the hull over the last few days." Tarvor began earnestly. "I don't like some of the things I'm seeing."

"If it's your reflection in the panel I wouldn't like it either." Franks told him flatly with a ghost of a smile.

"The thermo-coat is beginning to lose its cohesion on the port side." He began with a sigh. "The structure of the paintwork is breaking down, without it we wouldn't be protected from the radiation backwash from our own shields."

"In two months we're due to head back to base for a refit." The Captain shrugged without concern. "We're going to be upgraded with the same new deflector shields as the Constitution refit. They'll probably strip the thermo-coat straight off her hull then like they did on the Enterprise."

"Probably." He sighed again. "In the mean time we've taken quite a pounding over the last six months and the signs are beginning to show. Where the paint has broken down the metal beneath has started to corrode. This ship is not what she once was."

"The crew as well." Captain Franks shrugged. "When I took command of her she was intended to be the cutting edge of Starfleet design. It's hard to believe that was only ten years ago."

"It's been a long decade." The science officer agreed. "The crew have just gone largely insane, the ship is suffering metal fatigue and long-term shield abrasion to her protective coating. The Warp coils are over-loaded with a build up of negative particles and the core crystals are showing signs of developing micro-fractures."

"Is there any good news?" The Captain dropped his chin to his upturned palm dejectedly.

"Yes." The Vulcan officer nodded in agreement. "The upgrades to the weapons by the engineers are holding and the structural integrity field coils are in good shape. The shuttle pod also seems to be working again."

"The shuttle pod?" Franks sat up in his command chair with a frown.

"Yes, the one we have is frequently abused by the security team for scouting-ahead duties. It does appear to have recovered from the last rounds of abuse to a certain degree." He grumbled. "For the record we also have an officers lounge and an observation room where the crew meet up for the purpose of social interaction and relaxation."

"I'm a busy man." The Captain told him sternly, waving his hand at the suggestion dismissively.

"We're all busy." The officer told him bluntly. "It would be nice to see you there once in a while after a busy duty shift. That's all I'm saying."

"I'll see what I can do." The Captain allowed himself a smile.

The tiny silver ship stalked through space, streaking along with her engines pulsing gently in her small winglets. The reflection of countless stars danced over her metallic hull as she made her way along toward her target. She had detected her enemy and was locked into a pursuit course. She was ready now to engage them. Suddenly her weapons lashed out.

"Incoming message on Subspace signal." Tarvor said with a raised eyebrow. It's addressed for the eyes of the C.O. only and marked as vital mission data."

"Excellent." The Captain rolled his eyes. "More good news. Transfer to my ready-room console, I'll get round to it later."

"I'm detecting something." Commander Crowley began dubiously, still reeling from her most recent round of verbal abuse.

"Something?" The Captain turned to her, losing interest almost instantly in the instructions from Starfleet.

"It's a small vessel which seems to be taking weapons fire." She shrugged at the incomplete readings. "I can't be more precise than that at this range."

"Confirmed!" Tarvor agreed with a raised eyebrow. "I don't detect a second ship but I'm seeing the kind of radiation spikes typical of a shield response. Something is taking damage and it reads as benign. It must be a Federation vessel of some kind; probably civilian."

"Set course." The Captain ordered. "Engage Warp and take her to maximum speed."

"We'll be in visual contact in ten minutes if we go to Warp 8." The Commander suggested. "That would take us to emergency speeds but under the circumstances, protocol would allow us to do so at your discretion." She shut her eyes and silenced herself as she realised her habit for quoting regulations had spilled over once again.

"Tarvor?" The Captain turned to his science officer.

"She can take it." He sighed. "I'll contact the engineer and get him to schedule yet another round of inspections to the Warp-coils for tomorrow morning. He's going to call me lots of nasty names again."

"While you're at it, tell him to prepare damage control teams and that in future he can aim the nasty names at me any time he's feeling unusually brave." The Captain grinned. "Red alert, Battle stations. Engage at Warp 8."

The small Federation ship was a civilian vessel. She was stubby and boxy with twin snub engines bolted uneasily at her tail. It lurched to the side as another barrage of viscous red energy crackled over her shields. The tiny dart-shaped vessel sped past in another attack run before heading away, banking hard to avoid the ships defensive fire.

"It's a Spacematic conversion. J2 light-freighter class ship!" Commander Crowley confirmed from her readings. "They're in good shape, the attacking vessel doesn't seem to have done a lot of damage yet."

"Romulan?" The Captain guessed.

"I can't confirm that." Tarvor shook his head. "I'm not seeing any sign of cloaking, I'm just not getting any readings from the ship. The weapons fire doesn't appear to match up to a Romulan or Klingon disrupter."

"It's small." The Commander guessed. "From the attack pattern the vessel is highly manoeuvrable. My guess is that it's no longer than 20 metres and probably even less than that."

"A fighter perhaps." The Captain suggested. He turned to the tactical officer. "Rig the Phaser grid for maximum power. Transfer energy from wherever you need it. We may only have one good shot so let's make it count."

"Confirmed!" Lieutenant Sneddon agreed without taking his attention from the targeting scanner.

"It's going to be hard to get a lock." Tarvor added. "I can't transfer you any data from the sensors. You may have to fire on manual."

"No problem, Sir!" Lieutenant Sneddon smiled to himself. "I've been knocking out cloaking vessels for more years than I care to remember. I can do this."

"You wouldn't be sitting there if you couldn't!" Captain Franks smiled. "Make us proud."

The USS Asimov dropped from Warp speed with a flash, the streaking stars pulling back to silvery dots that punctuated the endless canvas of the universe.

The view screen showed the filthy grey vessel before them with a wispy trail of glowing plasma venting from the nacelle as a small vessel came up behind her on another attack run.

"Permission to fire, sir?" The Lieutenant asked as the yellow cross-hair lined up manually on the glowing exhaust of the alien vessel. Suddenly the brilliant light of the Phasers tore out from the ship and connected with the rear of the unprepared vessel.

"Permission granted, Mr. Sneddon." The Captain smiled. "Status?"

"I still can't detect the vessel." The science officer frowned in frustration. "I can detect the carbon scoring on their hull caused by the impact of our weapons. I'm sending the tracking lock to the tactical console now."

The Captain pressed a few buttons on the side of his chair. "This is Captain Jonathon Franks of the Federation Starship, USS Asimov." He began as the communications channel opened. "Cease your attack and surrender your vessel."

"They're coming about." The Commander warned. "If their main weapons are front mounted they may be planning to turn them on us."

"They could also be attempting to obscure their damage from our sensors." Tarvor added.

"Warn them!" Captain Franks said grimly. The view lit up with another Phaser blast that skipped over the hull of the small ship. It crackled over the shields but was carefully calculated to cause as little damage as possible.

The Federation vessel in the distance followed up with a stream of photon torpedoes that arced towards the tiny vessel. Four glowing bolts flickered towards their target.

"Where the hell did they come from?" Captain Franks barked in surprise as he leapt from the chair.

"That ship has no launcher according to my data." The Commander said in surprise. The first of the fierce weapons caught the tiny ship sending a concentrated arc of fire into their defences. The other three followed quickly, each delivering their deadly power.

"What's their status?" The Captain asked; his voice lowered as he turned towards the science officer, his eyes still fixed on the viewer as if he were unable to drag them away.

"They're going to have a headache in the morning." He quipped. "Don't ask me how but the hull looks to be in one piece. They'll survive if they don't get hit again."

"Open a channel." The Captain said quietly with a shake of the head. He began more authoritatively. "This is the Captain of the Starfleet vessel to the Federation ship. We have the situation under control. Cease fire and stand down your weapons immediately." He turned to his helm officer. "Bring us in between them."

"No reply." Commander Crowley shook her head and frowned in confusion. "Perhaps their communications were damaged in the attack?"

"They received our message." Tarvor told her. "You can't view a Federation message without activating a confirmation signal. We've had that back already. They just don't have anything to say."

"They may be better armed than we are." The Captain turned to his small bridge crew. "Maybe they feel they don't need to say anything."

"Warp spike!" The Commander warned with a sense of urgency. "They're energising their Warp coils…"

The Captain turned to the viewer as the Federation vessel vanished in a flash of energy.

"Set pursuit course into the computer in case we need to go after them." He ordered as his jaw tensed and an angry frown set onto his brow.

"Captain!" Tarvor frowned as he reconfirmed his readings. "I can follow their course but I can't match their speed."

"What?" The Captain turned to him with an expression of annoyance. "That's just a civilian vessel. How fast can it go?"

"According to the sensors it left at Warp 9.8 and continued climbing." He raised an eyebrow. "I've double checked my readings and they're correct."

"Civilian vessels are limited by law to Warp 6 due to safety concerns." Commander Crowley snapped up. "Spacematics are able to run at considerably less than that."

"When it comes mindlessly quoting the regulations I would consider it wise to trust your evaluation of the situation." Tarvor mocked her wryly. "There is clearly more going on here than meets the eye."

"The alien ship?" The Captain said loudly enough to kill the discussion and return the bridge to the matter at hand.

"It's not moving." The Commander began.

"I'm maintaining a manual target lock with the Phasers." Lieutenant Sneddon added. "They're not taking any provocative action but I'm still unable to lock on with the tracking sensors."

"So beaming the crew out is not an option." The Captain rubbed his chin thoughtfully.

"We could tow them aboard." Tarvor suggested. "The vessel is slightly smaller than our shuttle. I can have that drawn into the service bay to make room for it."

"Mr. Sneddon, please take a security team to the shuttle bay and evacuate all non-essential personnel from the rear of the ship." The Captain instructed as the officer quickly stood up from his position without more than a nod of agreement. Lieutenant Sneddon pressed the button on his wrist communicator to summon the people he required as he left the bridge.

"You're taking an unknown alien vessel on board this ship?" Commander Crowley began in protest.

"There may be injured on board." He replied simply to quash her arguments.

"Need I remind you that they attacked a Federation vessel?" She protested.

"The evidence would seem to bear out that that was not a Federation vessel." Tarvor told her as he took his seat at the tactical station.

"A civilian vessel would not be heading this close to the neutral zone." The Captain told her sternly. "They wouldn't be that well armed and they certainly wouldn't be that fast."

"We know our jobs." The science officer told her. "We've been doing them since before they let you into a simulator."

"It's not unusual for Romulans to attempt to disguise their vessels." The Captain told her more calmly, glancing to his communicator for confirmation that the shuttle bay was ready. "They may have captured a Federation ship and upgraded it, they may have built a replica for some reason. Things happen out here that you wouldn't expect to see deeper in our territory."

"Especially on this ship…" She grunted objectionably.

"On my ship." Franks corrected her dryly.

The USS Ronin drifted away from the construction yards as the lights danced across her grey hull like fingers caressing their lover's body. The ship had less of the elegance of the Constitution, her nacelles were tucked in closer to the hull and her flat shape bulged at the rear with additional decks and two large shuttle bays sunk into her angular stern. There was still a beauty to her design, a glimmer of inefficiency carved into her by a designer that retained an eye for aesthetics and her lines were still something to behold.

The Captain looked on while his crew scuttled about on their tasks with consummate ease. They were a new crew to this ship but not unseasoned. The Ronin had something to prove and she had been staffed by the best crew able to do it. Her mission was to chart anomalies along the Klingon border. It was hoped that a quick and efficient completion of that simple task would help to pave the way for the full-scale production of the Miranda class vessel. It was also secretly hoped that a new and powerful class of Starship seen patrolling the borders may send a message to the warlike race that the Federation were continuing to keep a watchful eye on them and were ready for trouble. If that trouble were indeed to befall the ship then a lot of effort had been taken to ensure that she were equal to the challenge. If it should indeed befall her than any opposition to the Miranda project would be instantly quelled and indeed many people involved on all sides of the project were secretly, and somewhat tastelessly, hoping for just such an occurrence.

The Captain watched his team as the scaffolding vanished around the vessel. He wanted to leave them a wide berth at first; the better to gauge their abilities and skills. Certainly from what he'd seen there were no problems and any slight annoyances could be quickly ironed out and adjusted to his very flexible style of command.

"We've cleared the array." The helm operator reported dryly, maintaining a watchful eye on the readings while more captivated by the spectacle in the viewer as the vision of the stars and the planet Mars before them replaced the machinations of the construction facility.

"No more safety net." He smiled. "We have a job to do and now it's time to show just how well we can do it."

"Yes Sir!" He agreed. "We're more than ready. This ship is the future."

Captain Franks stood at the sealed pressure doors with his science officer behind him as he waited patiently.

"Lieutenant Sneddon to the Captain." The intercom device on his wrist flashed a warning as the message came through. "The alien vessel is secure. We're showing no signs of any danger and have re-pressurised the hold."

"Excellent." He sighed to himself as the large metal door slid open with a hiss.

"I still suggest caution." Tarvor noted absently as the pair walked in through the door at the side of the small service bay. "We don't know what's inside that ship yet."

"Well we know it's not Romulan." The Captain added conversationally as they passed the modified shuttle pod. It was an older standard type but had been reduced in size for easier accommodation aboard the less spacious vessel. The Asimov could only manage to store a single shuttle but another was held in the stores in a dismantled state and could be serviceable in less than four hours if a dedicated engineering team were able to remain focused and sober for that length of time.

"No. It's not Romulan." The science officer agreed as he reviewed the information on his pad. "Although we can't discount the possibility of them acquiring new technology."

"I'll settle for your best opinion as always." Captain Franks told him with a smile.

"Well then my opinion is that we should get under way in pursuit of the Federation vessel." He began. "I'll make a navigational scan but if it looks like we may come across anywhere where we can take a few days of shore leave then I'll turn my opinion into an official recommendation."

"We're not due to stand down quite yet." The Captain told him. "Anyway, before we leave the area I want to have some rough idea as to what we're likely to find. That alien vessel may have all the answers we need."

"And it may hold a gelatinous blob of intelligent organic liquid." Tarvor suggested dryly.

"Do you know I've actually lost count of how many times you've suggested something unknown may contain a gelatinous blob of organic liquid." The Captain shook his head and suppressed a laugh.

"It could happen…" He narrowed his eyes accusingly.

Lieutenant Sneddon looked over the alien ship. It was small with a sharply pointed nose. The hull was simple and had little detail beyond the dulled metallic surface. At the top was a sleek set of darkened windows and the swept back winglets finished in a narrow set of vents. A single flush-fitting hatchway was at either side of the hull and she bore no markings.

The officer's hand hovered near to the Phaser weapon on his hip as he surveyed the alien vessel.

"Not much to this ship!" Ensign Copley commented as he stepped gingerly around the secure vessel. "I certainly don't recognise the design."

"That's none of our business, Copley. Nobody really cares what you think." The Lieutenant scolded. "Just keep your eyes peeled for any sign of movement. That's our job here."

Behind him the door to the main shuttle bay opened as the two officers stepped in. "Report!" Captain Franks ordered with his usual authority while Tarvor began sweeping the vessel with his Tricorder.

"Not much going on!" The Lieutenant began. "The ship was easy enough to lock down. I would guess it's designed for easy docking, maybe it's just an auxiliary ship of some kind."

"Nothing." Tarvor dropped the Tricorder to his side. "It's like the ship isn't even here. I can detect Ensign Copley's greasy fingerprints floating at the far side of the shuttle bay hangar."

"Copley!" The Lieutenant shouted in rebuke. "How many times do I have to tell you to keep your hands to yourself?"

"I trust you can sort this out amongst yourselves at a more appropriate time?" The Captain smirked knowingly at the sheepish expression of the junior officer.

"I'll sort him out." Lieutenant Sneddon told him with an angry snarl at the Ensign. "I'm very sorry about this, Sir."

"So how do we get in?" Captain Franks continued with a dismissive wave. "Any sign of an access panel switch?"

"Nothing we can detect." The Lieutenant began. "Nothing much in the way of detail anywhere. It looks like it's built for speed and strength and from the slender shape I would guess it's probably inter-atmospheric."

"It has windows at the top so it seems a safe assertion that it has a crew of at least one aboard." Tarvor surmised as he surveyed the craft with interest. "It has no weapons points either and yet we know it was firing."

"No thrusters." The Captain rubbed his chin. "No vents, no ports. The outer shell looks largely smooth."

"Maybe the hull material is capable of emitting energy wakes for propulsion?" The science officer said thoughtfully. "If that's he case then they may be able to use the same principal for weapons and even navigational deflection."

"Then again it could be powered by chemical rockets that just fell off." The Lieutenant grinned at his superior. "Sir." He added sarcastically for good measure.

"While possible I would suggest that that is unlikely." Tarvor sneered at him coldly.

"Well who knows what these gelatinous blobs get up to?" The young officer cast a knowing glance at the Captain.

"Exactly." The Captain agreed with a wink back. "And that's exactly what we're here to find out. Lieutenant, I'd like you to remain here while an engineering team begin an investigation of this craft."

"Yes Sir." He nodded happily.

"Stay here, Tarvor." The Captain continued to his science officer. "I want you to head up the engineering team. I'm going to set course to follow that Federation ship after all. If we can't get answers from this ship then we'll have to get them from the Spacematic. That doesn't mean I'm quite ready yet to assume that there's nothing we can learn here!"

Commander Crowley ran her fingers over the chair. The bridge of a Foundation class ship was a small one but well laid-out nonetheless. Before her was a single console that doubled as the navigation and helm control and at her left was the tactical station. There were only two other stations to be manned, the science systems and the operations-chief that she usually filled herself. She sat now at the Captains position at the heart of the vessel, the centre chair from which all things were controlled. Along the sides of the seat were over-ride switches for every system on the ship. She could dump the core or fire the weapons, go to Warp or activate the shields, all at the press of the correct buttons laid out before her. She relished the power beneath her fingers, even power over a small ship such as it was.

"The course is laid in." Ensign Morely told her dutifully.

"Engage at Warp-factor 5." She ordered. She watched in silence as the screen exploded in light as the warp coils deep beneath her bent the fabric of space and propelled the ship at unimaginable speed.

"Warp speed confirmed." She said with satisfaction as the ship duly complied with her input instructions.

"Speed holding with only a 3% drag."

"3%?" The Commander frowned. She flicked open the controls to open a communications channel to the engine room. "We have a 3% drag on our Warp factor." She began accusingly. "Can you offer me an explanation?"

"Yes Sir." The reply came forth almost instantly with a broad Irish lilt to the voice. "The coils haven't been purged properly in three years and we missed the last minor upgrade round 5 years ago after Starfleet cancelled them on the entire class. According to the simulated projections the crew should need to get out to push by now but my team have kept her together."

"I see." The Commander frowned.

"The Captain knows how well we do our jobs down here." The engineer told her as he closed the channel in disgust.

"Bridge out, I suppose." The Commander sighed.

"I need to see you." Doctor Pavlov told the Captain over the comm.

"Can it wait?" He pressed the button on his wrist to respond.

"I think you need to hear this and I think you should be hearing it from me." The Doctor told him. "The sooner the better."

"I'm on my way." The Captain frowned with concern.

Doctor Pavlov ran an efficient medical bay and prided himself on it. He sat in quiet contemplation as the only member of his staff worked on sorting out a large rack of samples that he'd deliberately rearranged that morning to give the medic something to do.

"Why don't you take a break?" He suggested with a weary sigh as he turned to the young woman.

"I'm fine." She smiled with her usual enthusiasm for duty.

"Now." He smiled humourlessly at her.

"Oh." She muttered, stepping back from the samples and wiping her hands on her uniform. "I suppose I could get some coffee."

"Take half an hour." He told her.

"I've only been working for two." She shrugged. "I'm not due a break."

"The menial tasks will still need doing when you get back." He told her coldly. "I promise I won't do anything trivial and mundane so you won't miss out on anything."

"Yes Sir." She glowered at him. She largely got on with every other member of the crew except Lieutenant Sneddon who had made several uninvited sexual advances and then told everyone else they were a couple and to expect a dent in their head the same shape as the butt of his Phaser if they looked at her in the wrong way. The Doctor was the person she worked with most closely and while still in awe of the good parts of his reputation she found him caustic and difficult.

"Have you read the message that Starfleet sent you?" Doctor Pavlov asked as he lowered his aging body into the chair in his small office.

"Not yet." The Captain admitted with a shrug. "It's probably nothing important, it never is."

"I think this time it may be." The Doctor exhaled loudly and rubbed his temples. "They sent me a message too."

"Saying?" Captain Franks asked, his mood darkening.

"They wanted more information on your condition before they take final action." He began. "They've been watching your communications logs carefully and they're more than a little concerned about you."

"What do they know?" The Captain asked, his voice barely a whisper as his mind filled with thoughts.

"I've told them you're suffering from a chronic stress disorder and up to now they seem to have believed me." He told him with a weak sigh. "That's not a mental disorder of any kind and wouldn't be recorded on your permanent record."

"Thank you." Franks nodded his gratitude.

"They know it's more serious than that." The Doctor told him flatly. "They know you're suffering from something that runs a little deeper."

Captain Franks rubbed his head and closed his eyes while he marshalled his rampaging thoughts. "I suppose I'm lucky." He smiled humourlessly. "They could have suspected a long time before this."

"That's true." He agreed. "I can't carry on lying to them any longer. They know something is wrong."

"I appreciate everything you've done for me up to now." Franks told his old friend.

"This is just battle-fatigue." The Doctor sighed. "Post traumatic stress disorder. You've served on the front line for just too many years. You need to seriously think about a making some changes. I would imagine that all they have in mind is putting you behind a desk for a few years."

"I can't." He smiled. "This is my ship and I belong here."

"Nobody wants that more than me." The Doctor assured him. "If they ask me I'll happily tell them that this is where you belong."

"But it's not going to happen, is it?" The Captain hung his head wearily under the weight of the very thought of surrendering his command.

"Perhaps you need a desk job for a few years." He suggested hopefully. "A change of pace might do you the world of good."

"Like Kirk did?" The Captain snapped up angrily. "Can you see me accepting an office when being out here is all I want; all I ever wanted?

"What about your wife and daughter?" The Doctor continued and ignored his sudden change of mood.

"I haven't see them in over three years." He sighed. "The fact of my absence is all that holds our relationship together."

"I just wanted to warn you." The Doctor shook his head. "It looks like your message might just be the promotion we've been dreading."

"Sir." The Commander of the USS Ronin stepped onto the raised platform at the centre of the bridge as he took his seat. "A communication for you." The Captain took the pad and opened the data. He quickly scanned the information and frowned deeply.

"We're to change course?" He said rhetorically with a curious expression of interest.

"To our side of the Romulan neutral zone." The Commander agreed. "Strange. This vessel has yet to prove herself."

"Indeed." He agreed. He looked again over the notes he'd received. "We're to assist the USS Asimov in the capture of a small alien vessel and the pursuit of a Federation ship that may have initiated an aggressive encounter."

"I know." She agreed with a shrug as he pondered how odd the instructions were. "Surely the ship is equipped to handle such a routine mission herself. Why would she need us?"

"Perhaps Starfleet feels we need a quick shakedown before we begin?" The Captain sighed.

"We've run the ship at Warp for 5 hours and completed every test in the book." The Commander retorted. "The engineer says the ship is ready for anything."

"I'm sure the Asimov could easily cope if this information is accurate." The Captain said. "I know her Captain well, we were at the academy together."

"Captain Franks?" She asked.

"He's a good man." The Captain agreed. "He's carved out of stone. I can't imagine very much could happen anywhere that he couldn't handle even if he were in a shuttle armed with a hand-Phaser."

"Sir!" Ensign Copley stepped away from the small metallic vessel in surprise.

"Copley?" The Lieutenant called out in surprise as he heard the cry of his junior officer. "What is it?" The officer bounded around the tiny shuttle-bay to face the perturbed young man. He was pointing fearfully to the rear of the captured alien vessel. The Lieutenant followed his finger to where they stood. Two of them. Grey metal frames floated unwaveringly before them, each holding a smoked black sheet of glass. Through the glass two aliens stood gazing out through almond-shaped black eyes. They had pale skin and emotionless faces but as the Humans looked around them they were invisible if not viewed through the frames.

"I think they're aliens." The Ensign said finally, turning to his superior.

"Not Romulans then…" He agreed with a grin. He stepped forward gingerly to the pair of visitors. "I'm Lieutenant Sneddon of the United Federation of Planets Starship, USS Asimov." He began. "We are on a peace keeping mission and your weapons fire with the other vessel was in violation of local laws."

"Coo're'Ganna." One of the pair hissed, the voice was high in tone and grating to a human ear like spoken as a rasping kind of echo.

"Right." The Lieutenant shrugged. "Maybe we better call the Captain."

"I'd like to speak with you in my office." Captain Franks told the Commander sternly as he stepped onto his bridge with his science officer behind him. She glanced in surprise and duly complied with his instructions, following him to the side of the bridge. "Is there a problem?" She asked cautiously.

"Maybe." He nodded. "You too please, Mr. Tarvor."

Once inside he sealed the door and sat down quietly behind the small counter. He gestured for her to sit opposite while his science officer took his usual seat.

"There's something you don't know." He began with a sigh.

"Sir?" She raised an eyebrow curiously and allowed him to continue.

"Your service record isn't spotless." He reminded her. "Your grades in the academy were excellent but you had problems on your last assignment."

"Yes Sir." She agreed somewhat deflated. "I was under the impression that you were aware of all the details before I was sent here."

"I was." He nodded. "I just want you to be aware of the conditions aboard this vessel."

"I'm learning." She huffed.

"You're not the only officer here with a chequered past by any means." Tarvor told her knowingly. "We all have our secrets. Starfleet has a tendency to find things for officers like us to do which keeps us nicely out of the way."

"I get the feeling you're about to tell me something." She noted casually with a growing sense of uneasiness.

"I've just had a conversation with the Doctor." The Captain told her with a deep sigh.

"The Doctor seems eminently qualified from my reviews of the manifest." The Commander noted as she looked. "He is a veteran with twenty years of Starfleet before his assignment to this ship."

"He's a good man." Captain Franks agreed with a hearty nod. "I had to pull a lot of strings to get him here."

"How many stings did you have to pull to arrange the posting of a Vulcan science officer to this vessel?" She asked suspiciously.

"Perhaps a more pertinent question might be, how many favours did you have to call in to get the Doctor out of prison?" Tarvor asked with an innocent expression.

"What?" The Commander snapped up with an expression of alarm.

"He's had his problems in the past and I feel he deserves a second chance." The Captain told her bluntly. "He's one of the best Doctors in the fleet."

"And he is chemically addicted to Plarion fire." The science officer shook his head dolefully. "It comes in a bottle and tastes almost like water. A few minutes after drinking it every nerve in your body lights up with pleasure impulses."

"He killed a patient." The Captain told her. "He came forward and handed himself to the authorities or else nobody would ever have known. It was determined that the addiction had damaged his judgement to such a degree that he had been negligent of the needs of his patient."

"He was charged?" She frowned in annoyance. "Even if he was rehabilitated how did he ever get readmitted to Starfleet?"

"You can't rehabilitate someone with an addiction to Plarion fire." Tarvor told her calmly. "It causes permanent damage to the nerve centre of the brain so that eventually pleasure can never be experienced without using the drink. It's a very unpleasant creation."

"He's demonstrated that he can function with his condition." Franks said finally to end the conversation. I'd rather have him on board my ship that an academy graduate that barely knows which end of the scalpel not to scratch his head with."

"But surely…" She began to protest.

"He's the best man." The Captain said forcibly. "We're not going to get McCoy or even Florence Nightingale out here. We need him and he happens to be my friend. He's worked well with this team and we trust him."

"Yes Sir." She muttered. "I don't understand a lot of the procedures this crew appears to have adopted and considers normal."

"Well in the Doctor's case it's very simple." Tarvor told her flatly. "He requires many things to survive including air to breath, food to eat and now this chemical as well. All you have to understand is that if he had to choose any one of those it would probably be the Plarion fire."

"I see." She said finally, shaking her head and harbouring an expression of disapproval.

"The problem isn't with him and I think you both need to hear this." The Captain said finally.

"It gets worse?" The Commander quipped humourlessly with an indelicate avoidance of subtlety.

"I received a message from Starfleet." He began grimly. "We're to complete a routine sweep and return to Earth. This ship is to be decommissioned."

"What?" Tarvor gasped. "You cannot be serious?"

"In part it's due to my mental condition." Franks told him with a nod.

"Mental condition…" The Commander turned to face her Captain in shock.

"The Captain has a minor stress disorder." Tarvor told her to save him from the embarrassment of doing so. "It has no serious consequences and can only affect mood and temperament, it does not in any way impair judgement or reasoning."

"Well Starfleet no longer seems willing to accept that." The Captain told them. "It seems I'm to be kept under closer watch and this vessel is to be scrapped."

Suddenly a tone rung around the office from Captain Frank's communicator.

"Clo'gran." The alien creature repeated as it stood in the bay glaring round with the other beside it.

"I'm Captain Franks." He told the aliens, stepping forward with his palms slightly exposed to reveal his lack of weapons.

"Humans." The creature slurred. It turned to look at the other and the pair pressed a few buttons on a small silver device on the side of their heads. "We can speak Human now."

"I have some questions for you." The Captain told them, crossing his arms over his large chest.

"We need your ship." The leader of the pair told him. "Ours is simply too badly damaged. You will have to destroy them for us."

"We're not destroying anyone!" The Lieutenant shouted angrily. The Captain spun around and shot him a caustic glare. "Except Romulans, sir." He muttered weakly by way of an apology. "Or Klingons, I don't mind shooting at Klingons."

"I don't think you fully understand your position." The Captain told the aliens. "You're not going to be taking over my ship."

The alien frowned at him as if it didn't understand. "We cannot crew your ship. You must destroy our enemies."

"We are content to destroy people should the need arise with no possibility of avoidance." Tarvor began by way of an explanation. "The problem is that you are in Federation space and were firing on a Federation vessel. As far as we're concerned you are our enemies."

"No." The Clo'gran told him firmly. "You are in many ways quite wrong."

"Security." Captain Franks turned from the aliens. "Escort these gentleman to the briefing room on deck 3 where we can continue this conversation in more cordial surroundings."

"Sir!" Lieutenant Sneddon agreed with a nod, stepping forward to usher the creatures to the door.

Captain Franks stepped closer to his science officer. "I want you inside that ship with a Tricorder in two minutes and inside my office with answers in two hours." He said with a lowered voice.

"I imagine I can arrange not to disappoint you on either." He smiled conceitedly.

"You better not." The Captain told him. "I can feel my stress levels rising all the time and I'd hate for anything to happen that would give Starfleet any further cause for concern."

"Perish the thought." He glowered back at the Captain.

"There is much I don't understand." The Commander began as her and the Captain headed to the briefing room. "This ship design is only around 10 years old. I was told that when she was built it was considered cutting edge with a projected 25 year period between major refits. Why would they simply scrap her?"

"There were 13 if these ships planned in the initial run." The Captain began. "7 were actually built and only 2 are left, including this one. Every time they've been involved in fleet activities they let the side down. Somehow there's a design flaw, that's why they are left patrolling the edge of the neutral zone."

"The specifications are impressive." She continued with her brow ruffled curiously. "Twin uni-directional Phaser projectors with a full array of normal Phaser points. Twin Photon torpedo tubes, full tactical grid, upgraded sensors, system automation, advanced artificial intelligence computer interface. This ship stands up better than most large cruisers."

"Everything's there." The Captain agreed sadly. "It just doesn't seem to work when you put it all together."

"So the entire class is to be scrapped?" She shook her head dolefully.

"It looks that way." He nodded. "A mistake Starfleet is keen to forget. They're planning new ships based on a totally new design concept, this over-armed vessel belongs to another era."

"You mean the new Miranda?" She asked with interest.

"And the Oberth." He added. "The Oberth will replace virtually all ships of this size once she's in full scale production. She has no standard armaments whatsoever and the sensors grid is so delicate it has to be insulated from the engineering of the ship in a separate pod. The days of fitting twin cannons on the side of a ship are apparently over."

"Personally I think that that may be a good thing." She smiled thinly. "We are supposed to be about the peaceful exploration of space."

"I agree." He stopped in his tracks and turned to face her. "Unfortunately there's a lot of other species out here that aren't about that at all."

"Like the Romulans?" She raised an eyebrow knowingly.

"Like the Romulans." He scowled with barely suppressed malice.

Two metallic frames floated behind the briefing table. Smoked dark glass was suspended within that allowed a ghostly image behind of the invisible alien visitors.

"Begin." The low voice rasped from the refracted image and despite the soft tone it somehow demanded their attention.

"Explain yourself." The Captain leant forward with interest while the Commander regarded the pair with suspicious eyes.

"We are Coo'gral." It told them coldly. "We have come from a future that never existed to a past that will never happen." Captain Franks turned to his first officer with a raised eyebrow. "To explain myself I must reveal much of your future and that is against your own rules."

"That's correct." Commander Crowley nodded.

"Our rules do not tie our hands in the same manner." The alien told her wryly. "I will proceed."

"Wait." The Captain held up his hand for them to stop as he turned to the Commander.

"We are required by Starfleet directives not to have fore-knowledge of our own future." She explained. "Having such knowledge could cause damage to the natural timeline and change the way history unfolds."

"Is it a law, a rule or a guideline?" The Captain narrowed his eyes.

"It's not formally enforced by law." She admitted. The Captain smiled and nodded for the aliens to continue with their story.

"An alien species will attack the Federation in your far distant future." The Coo'gral told them. "In the course of these events time was altered and the future diverted to allow the species to completely occupy then entire galaxy. These events were not meant to come to pass and only did through manipulation of time."

"Who has that kind of power?" Commander Crowley gasped. "Who could take over the entire galaxy?"

"The Borg." They told her firmly.

"Never heard of them." Captain Franks shrugged.

"You won't have yet." The visitor told him. "When their installation was destroyed the temporal opening began to close but several vessels managed to enter before it collapsed entirely."

"You claim that that is how you came to be here?" The Captain crossed his arms over his chest and leant back.

"The vessel we fired on exhibited a form of energy that is inconsistent with this era." The Coo'gral told him. "One of the enemy vessels must have arrived before us and disguised themselves. They have detailed files on the history of this era and could quite easily begin a plan to bring about the history we have witnessed or an even worse one."

"So you're trying to restore history?" The Commander suggested.

"We're trying to ensure that everything proceeds as it was meant to." The alien nodded in agreement.

Commander Bochran rubbed his chin thoughtfully while his officer showed him the projections aboard the confined briefing room of his ship.

"There…" Centurion Churang pointed excitedly to a small flashing dot on the screen of the table as the computer enlarged the image. "The vessel fired on a Federation ship and a patrol scout came to investigate."

"Investigate." The Commander leant back on the wall and stared at his officer. "You're positive that there was no distress call of any kind?"

"None." He assured him with a nod. "The Federation vessel was not sending an electronic identity signature but it was clearly an inferior type. We expected it to begin asking for help immediately. That would have given us a justifiable excuse to enter the neutral zone. No such request was made."

"I agree that this is curious." The Commander acceded. "You are going to have to give me something more before I wilfully ignore the treaty and cross into Federation space."

"There is more." The Centurion grinned. "When the patrol scout arrived the ship fled."

"The attacking ship?" The Commander raised an eyebrow thoughtfully.

"No sir…" He shook his head with a smile fluttering over his lips. "The Federations ship fled."

"That is quite strange." He nodded and looked back at the computer simulation drawn from the sensor data his aging Bird of Prey had collected.

"Stranger still is that the ship fled at a speed that we could not match, nor could the Starfleet scout." Churang added to seal the Commander's interest.

"How is that possible?" The Commander shook his head and frowned deeply.

"We don't know." The officer admitted. "From what we can tell the Starfleet ship doesn't appear to know either."

"Alright…" The Commander stood up straight and took a deep and contemplative breath. "What do you propose?"

"I think we should follow the situation as it unfolds aboard the Starfleet vessel." Churang stood to attention opposite his Commander. "They have taken the attacking vessel aboard and will doubtlessly pursue the Federation ship. We stand a possibility of obtaining a great deal of new technology that could strengthen our entire fleet."

"I see…" The Commander smiled wistfully and turned away. "I know we could use it. The Klingons have been taking pot-shots at us for the last decade. They're nibbling away at our perimeter defences and growing more powerful."

"The Romulan Empire will prevail!" Churang spoke forcefully with utter faith in his words.

"Will we?" The Commander sighed. "We stand on the most advanced vessel in our fleet. A refitted Bird of Prey that's already thirty years old."

"The new Quantum Singularity drive allows us more power than ever before." The Centurion said proudly, slightly confused by the lack of enthusiasm of his commanding officer.

"It's unreliable." He said finally. "It's not fully tested and yet they're cramming an artificial black-hole into the belly of our ships. You won't hear about it through normal channels but of the hundred and twenty vessels outfitted with this new drive three have already been lost due to accidents on board."

"Sir?" The officer's eyes widened in surprise.

"The Klingons are growing in strength and power." The Commander told him. "Their energy facility on Praxis is running at three times its normal level. Production of their battle ships has been stepped up accordingly. They're gearing up for something and their eye seems to be pointing at us. The new drive may be unstable but without it we would be defenceless against an increasingly hostile enemy."

"Well we may learn much from the Federation ship if we could capture it." The Centurion suggested.

"Set course." The Commander agreed. "Run a diagnostic on the cloaking device to check that it's stable. Engage alert status red and inform the crew that in one hour we will cross over into Federation space in violation of treaty."

"Yes Sir."

Tarvor climbed down from the side of the captured alien vessel as he saw the Captain enter the shuttle-bay.

"I hope you have something to report." He called out coldly.

"I'd hate to disappoint a ruthless and aggressive Starfleet officer with emotional issues to work out." The Science officer agreed with a wry grin.

"Your Vulcan behaviour is slipping." Franks told him with a weak smile.

"Well nothing much about this vessel has much to do with pure logic in any case." He told him with a frown. "Firstly we have to accept that this vessel couldn't have been built by the aliens as they are phased out of our material reality."

"Which also begs the question of how they control it." Captain Franks agreed.

"It's more involved than that." He began with a glance at the notes on his pad. "This ship has absolutely none of the things it would need to function. It has no thrusters, no weapons points, no Warp engines. The only details it has are a few markings and holes that don't have any scoring marks so my guess is that they're intakes of some kind."

"How does it manoeuvre without thrusters?" The Captain rubbed his chin thoughtfully while he frowned deeply in confusion.

"I don't have the answers you're looking for." Tarvor said sadly. "What I can tell you is that this ship doesn't belong here, in this space and time."

"What do you mean?" The Captain asked, suddenly intrigued.

"No Federation species built this thing." He said simply. "This is years ahead of any technology we understand."

"What would you think if I told you it was from the future?" Captain Franks asked with a grin.

"At this point…" He began with a shrug. "I'd believe you."

Captain Franks sat opposite the aliens over the briefing lounge table. His Commander and Science officer took their place beside him.

"We've been looking over your ship." Tarvor began as his eyes bored into the image of the creature through the smoked glass.

"It is no longer functional." It replied. "We have broken it."

"We must stop the Cardassians." The other alien added impatiently.

"The Cardassians?" Captain Franks turned to the Commander with a raised eyebrow.

"Cardassians." She repeated as she ran the name through the computer. "No First Contact record at this time but long-range probes have been observing them with the hope of initiating contact within a decade."

"From the future." The first Coo'gral began. "They must be stopped before they damage the timeline."

"You must help us, Captain Franks." The second added as it stepped closer to the glass.

"Me?" He shrugged nonchalantly but there was something deeply disturbing about hearing the unearthly creature whisper his name.

"Your future is our past. We can read the pages of tomorrow written three centuries ago." The Coo'gral told him. "Captain Johnathon Franks. Died today in 2273."

"Today!." Tarvor narrowed his eyes accusingly as he glowered at the aliens.

"Stripped of his command he commits suicide during a break from his official debriefing." The alien continued. Commander Crowley glanced over to the stony faced officer as he stared fixedly at their guests, patiently waiting for them to proceed.

"During the final sensor sweep of the perimeter the USS Asimov under the command of First Officer Crowley, encounters a Romulan Bird of Prey and is destroyed. News of this is considered the catalyst for his suicidal actions."

The crew stared in dumbstruck silence. Captain Franks ran his hand over his forehead, wiping away the prickling beads of sweat as he swallowed.

"You are therefore suited to assist us." The second Coo'gral told them.

"Explain that…" The Captain said, his voice hoarse and uneven.

"You make no more impact in history." It told him as if explanation seemed to be redundant. "You are forgotten and relegated to obscurity. Your ship never entered full scale production and was so unimportant it was never even added to the recognition tables of the Federation database."

"What are you asking?" The Commander asked, her face ashen with fear at the thought of leading her first command to the deaths of the entire crew.

"You must help us capture and destroy the Cardassian ship." The alien turned to her to glower at her with its huge and emotionless black eyes.

"If we don't?" The Captain leant forward, his voice back to its authoritative and commanding norm.

"History has been written on that issue." The Coo'gral told him.

"We don't appear to be much of a match for these Cardassians in any case." Tarvor added calmly.

"That can be corrected." The Coo'gral told him.

"Where did the vessel go?" Captain Franks asked weakly as the tumultuous weight of the situation began to bear down on him.

"That's still another strange detail." Tarvor replied with a roll of the eyes. "I tracked the vessel along the rim of the neutral zone and it seems to have entered the Section 2031."

"We can't go after it then." The Commander added, hopeful that the team would at least seek advice from Starfleet before continuing recklessly on their own. "We don't have any treaty rights to explore that area."

"We don't have a lot of things we're going to need if you're serious about going after that ship." Tarvor began with a tired sigh. "From everything I've noted from the sensor logs they're better armed, faster and almost definitely not equipped with a Commander who tirelessly reminds the rest of us of the rules we already know."

"If we go after that ship then we break Federation rules and enter an uncharted region of space with no exploration rights in a small patrol craft." Captain Franks began rhetorically, speaking more to marshal her thoughts than illicit a reply.

"A small patrol craft in poor shape." Tarvor added while the Commander fidgeted nervously beside him.

"And if we don't the vessel will escape altogether." Captain Franks sighed thoughtfully. "And this vessel faces the very real possibility of being lost with all hands less than seven hours from here at the hands of a Romulan battle-ship."

"You're talking about turning Renegade." The Commander retorted in annoyance. "You can't be seriously considering taking this ship into that sector?"

"If we did?" Tarvor turned to her with a knowingly raised eyebrow.

"We'd be guilty of stealing a Federation Starship." She sneered at him after a moment of hesitation.

"The fact is we'd not be in any violation of Federation law by entering into Section 2031." Captain Franks told her what she already knew. "We'd simply be ignoring our orders and would be justified in doing so because the situation has changed since they were issued."

"So we're going to do something incredibly stupid and dangerous?" Tarvor sighed with weary resignation.

"With the added spice of flagrantly disregarding our orders." The Captain grinned openly.

"Sir!" The junior officer frowned suspiciously at the long-range sensor display he'd been monitoring from his station aboard the USS Ronin.

"What is it?" Captain Singh asked as he glanced up from his ruminations of what might lay ahead for his new ship.

"The USS Asimov has vanished." The officer turned to him sheepishly. "We've lost their transponder code. They must have been damaged in some way."

"Or turned it off." The Captain rubbed his chin as a suspicious scowl settled over his features. "What the hell is going on out there?"


Proceed to Part 2 of 3


Last modified: 09 Nov 2020